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Youth and young adults increasingly car-free

A couple of years ago, when I presented the results of my Masters thesis on the social travel patterns of youth and young adults to TransLink, I got some mixed reactions. On one hand, the younger transit planners in the room nodded and understood the changing travel patterns, with more young people choosing to remain car-free. On the other hand, the older planners expressed surprise that young people were continuing to use transit, walking, and cycling well into their 30s: given my small sample size, they thought my study only reflected real transit junkies and that the trends did not reflect trends in the general population. I’m pleased to say there are now a number of other studies out there that confirm my results that young people really do have different transportation preferences, and not just because they can’t afford to own cars.

A recent article in the LA Times portrays the younger generation as increasingly anti-car. JD Power and Associates conducted a study of hundreds of thousands of “conversations” on car-related sites, personal blogs and sites like Twitter and Facebook in order to get a sense of teens’ (12-18) and young adults’ (22-28) perceptions of cars. According to the market research firm, the reasons are only partly economic. They also found that social networking sites may be relieving the need for young people to physically meet up with friends and socialize, decreasing the need to travel. They found that young people generally had negative perceptions about the auto industry (not surprising considering the fall of the Big Three automakers and the failure to address cleaner-burning engines).

This is no news to most of us in planning, but Elizabeth Caitlin Cooper’s recent study of SFU students is definitely food for thought. Cooper’s study found that young adults who had used a U-Pass during their time as students were much more likely to be regular transit riders after they had graduated. Her thesis, “Creating a Transit Generation”, was featured on the front page of the Georgia Straight in August. Yuri Kagema wrote about decreased car use among Japanese youth in the Oregon Business News earlier this year. Car manufacturers are naturally concerned at this turn of events (the LA Times article appeared in the “car” section of their newspaper) but the news from the US, Japan, and Canada seems to indicate changing trends.

It’s definitely time to reconsider the notion that car ownership is a mark of adulthood, and that everyone automatically switches to driving when they turn 16 (particularly with graduated licensing these days!) I will be taking a deeper look at youth and young adults’ transportation trends in Canada’s 10 largest Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) in the December issue of Plan Canada, so stay tuned all you planners out there.


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